We call ourselves the land of the free, home of the brave and the greatest country on earth. But as September 11's attacks horribly demonstrated, some corners of the world hate the United States for what it is and does.
Here at home, we celebrate a culture of individual freedom and capitalism. But our way of life, which has been spreading around the world, is viewed by some overseas as decadent, corrupt and immoral. Couple that disgust with our uncontested role as the world's military heavyweight and you've got a potential powder keg of anti-Americanism.
According to Fariba Nawa, a 28-year-old Afghanistan refugee and student at New York University, "The young Egyptians and Iraqis I've spoken to believe a superpower has a responsibility to be fair and just. And they feel the United States isn't fair and just."
For better or worse, the United States has for decades been the 800-pound gorilla in the Middle East due to its oil interests there. Our allies in the region haven't always governed equitably and parts of the Arab world hold us responsible. The U.S. embargo of Iraq hasn't made us many friends, either, and America's steadfast support of Israel continues to infuriate many in the region.
"There is a degree to which the United States is inevitably involved in the stability of the Middle East, and these radical revolutionary elements deeply resent that involvement," said Fareed Zakaria, senior editor of Newsweek's international edition.
That resentment has at times manifested itself in violent attacks launched by Islamic extremists, usually in the form of bombings. In 1993, terrorists set off an explosive in the basement of the World Trade Center during their first attempt to bring down the twin towers. In 1998, radicals leveled U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with explosives. Another bomb ripped a hole into the side of the USS Cole, a Navy ship stationed off the coast of Yemen.
These attacks were allegedly funded by a loose, multinational radical Muslim terrorist brotherhood known as Al Qaeda, whose kingpin is Osama bin Laden. In the wake of September 11, President Bush and others accused bin Laden of masterminding the attacks on both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. More recently, British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented evidence suggesting that Al Qaeda did, in fact, coordinate the hijacking of four U.S. passenger jets.
Osama bin Laden, Public Enemy Number One
So who is bin Laden? One of 52 children, he was born in 1957 to a wealthy Saudi Arabian construction magnate and has used his inheritance and self-made fortune to back terror operations around the world. His stated goal: to stop the dominance of what he perceives as an unholy culture.
"The United States is at the center of a kind of world that is taking over. Capitalist. Acquisitive. Materialistic. Individualistic. It's a world in which women don't wear veils. It's a world in which young kids watch TV," Zakaria said.
Bin Laden has no problem recruiting followers in the poor, underdeveloped, war-ravaged regions of the Third World where he operates.
"They round up really, really poor kids from Pakistan and Afghanistan who have nothing to eat and say, 'We'll feed you if you come to our school,'" Nawa explained. "So they bring them to schools and through food they're taught violence."
Bin Laden's holy war has come to the United States in a big way. American forces have recently led conventional bombing attacks on targets within Afghanistan, but as U.S. officials have stressed repeatedly, a war against terrorism does not have simple targets. Instead, the United States and its allies have pledged to fight a covert conflict that will involve intelligence agencies around the world coordinating to eliminate enemies who may be hiding in multiple locations.
Zakaria said the so-called War on Terrorism could "turn into something like the War on Drugs, where you have a nebulous enemy, very difficult terrain and a series of ongoing battles in which you may win one here but you lose another one there."
Or as Nawa put it: "Osama wanted dead or alive but at what expense?"
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For more information on and audience reaction to the attacks, including tips on how you can help, see "9.11.01: Moving Forward."